Books I’ve Read in 2013

Here are the books I read during 2013. I rate them with 1-5 stars. The book must be truly phenomenal to get 5 stars.

  1. **Ripley Under Ground (Patricia Highsmith, 1970). The second of five books starring the sociopathic killer Tom Ripley. This one involves an art scam he’s involved with, and his efforts to shield himself. Part of the Black Lizard imprint. 1/1
  2. ***The Fire Engine that Disappeared (Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, 1969). The 5th book in the Martin Beck series, but the 8th one I’ve read. Fire sweep through a large house, killing several people, including a couple of criminals. What exactly happened there? That’s what Martin Beck (who actually plays a small role) and his fellow policemen unravel. Part of the Black Lizard imprint. 1/5
  3. ***Cop Killer (Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, 1975). A woman disappears, and is eventually found murdered. Gunvald Larsson, part of the Martin Beck team, plays what is probably the starring role in this 9th book in the series. Later in the book, a cop is killed and two others wounded in a shootout with two thieves. One thief gets away, and the manhunt brings a second storyline. Part of the Black Lizard imprint. 1/11
  4. ***Hard Feelings (Jason Starr, 2002).  Richie Segal, a salesman in a tech company, has difficulties at work and at home with his wife. Then he encounters a man who once molested him, repeatedly. Things spin in and out of control. Richie tells the story first person, and the reader mainly just hangs on for the rollercoaster ride, wondering where it will all lead. Part of the Black Lizard imprint. 1/18
  5. *Cogan’s Trade (George V. Higgins, 1974). Two guys rob a poker game, and Cogan gets called in to find out who did it. Much of the book is dialogue. I suppose it’s good dialogue, but I was bored. Higgins is supposed to be a master. I guess I just don’t particularly care for his style. This is one of the few books in the Vintage/Black Lizard imprint that have disappointed me. 1/27
  6. ***Born Bad (Andrews Vachss, 1994). A collection of short stories from the man who writes one of my favorite series, the Burke series of “urban noir.” I’m not a big fan of short stories, which is why this book, along with a later collection, has sat on my shelf for many years. But I decided to give it a try. Wow, Vachss is good! Many are very short–only 3-4 pages. Vachss’ trademark themes–his hostility toward child abuse and all kinds of sexual abuse, and his love for dogs (and use of them to wreak justice)–are on prominent display in these stories. If they’re not, the story probably involves a criminal or someone living on the edge of the criminal world. Excellent stuff. 1/29
  7. ***State of Siege (Eric Ambler, 1956). Steve Fraser, a British contractor in the fictional country of Sunda, a former Dutch colony next to Malaysia, is going home. But while in the city awaiting a flight, rebels move in and occupy the place–and they make their headquarters the home where he is staying. He’s with a Eurasian beauty named Rosalie, and wants to keep her safe. Interesting dynamics between rebel officers, including their charismatic leader. The government launches a counterattack, and things get sticky. Quite an interesting read. 2/2
  8. **Epitaph for a Spy (Eric Ambler, 1952). Josef Vadassy is arrested in France for taking photos of seaside fortifications. The police realize it must have been somebody else at the hotel where he is staying. So he’s sent back, and tries to figure out who among the hotel’s motley assortment of international guests–English, American, French, German, Swiss–is the spy. The book takes place almost entirely at the hotel. Not enough action for me. 2/10
  9. **A Sleeping Life (Ruth Rendell, 1978). A woman is stabbed to death on a footpath, and Inspector Wexford sets about learning what happened. The woman actually lives in London, and they can’t figure out the identity she uses there. That’s most of the mystery. An unexpected ending, but Rendell dropped the clues along the way. 2/14
  10. ***Night Squad (David Goodis, 1961). Goodis is superb. In this book, Corey Bradford, who had been kicked off the police force for corruption, is hanging around doing nothing–scorned by the police and by the people in the community where he grew up. A set of circumstances ingratiate him to a local mobster, who wants him to figure out who is trying to kill him. Then the Night Squad, a small group of ruthless policemen, recruit him. Various other characters, of course, figure into the plot, a few of them women (the mobster’s wife, Corey’s ex-wife, a bouncer named Nellie). The plot covers just a couple of days’ time. Very interesting stuff–well-drawn characters, and a setting brought to life. 2/16
  11. ***The Last Six Million Seconds (John Burdett, 1997). England will soon–in 6 million seconds–transfer control of Hong Kong to China. But a grisly triple murder has occurred, and Inspector Charlie Chan plunges in. The plot involves a Chinese military mobster named General Xian, duplicitous English officials, interesting local characters, some travelers from New York…in general, too many people for me to adequately keep track of. The writing is very evocative, capturing the essence of Hong Kong and of Chinese culture. A complicated book. 2/26
  12. **Terminal (Andrew Vachss, 2007). In this 17th Burke book, Burke and his band of urban criminals work on extorting money from three men who, 30 years before, raped and murdered a young woman. As usual, Vachss retells Burke’s life, tells some Wesley stories, and takes plenty of side roads. Not one of his better books, but I’m hooked, so I read them all anyways. 3/8
  13. ****World War Z (Max Brooks, 2006). If you’ve ever read a Studs Terkel oral history (I’ve read several), you’ll be right at home with this oral history of a future worldwide zombie war. The interviewer, several years after the war ends, flits around the world talking to persons about their experiences during the zombie war–China, Israel, Ireland, South Africa, Russia, the US, France, and even the international space station. It begins in China, where the outbreak began, and we learn how it spread to the rest of the world. It’s all quite fascinating (to me). The author pulled this off real well. It reminded me, too, of the book “War Day,” by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka, which I read back in 1984. “War Day” follows the authors around the country five years after a nuclear war, describing how the country had changed. 3/16
  14. ***God, No! (Penn Jilette, 2011). Comedian/magician Penn Jillette is an atheist, a thoughtful one, and this is billed as a book about religion. I decided to give it a try. It’s basically a collection of essays which meander far and wide, yet always in an entertaining way. He’s profane, casting a multitude of f-bombs, and he’s sexually immoral (though an atheist wouldn’t see it that way), with an obsession about his genitals. Yet his experiences and observations, especially about the show biz field, are quite fascinating, and he gives the best explanation of libertarianism I’ve heard. I appreciated his fundamental belief that people are good and will do the right thing. I’ll read other books by him, probably.3/22
  15. ***Prodigy (Marie Lu, 2013). The second “Legend” novel finds June and Day fleeing the dystopian Republic and getting involved with the Patriot resistance group. As with “Legend” June (the title character of “Prodigy”) and Day (a populist hero on the run who is the title character of “Legend”) alternate chapters, telling their story first person (and in alternating serif and sans-serif type). June becomes the central character in a plot to kill the Elector, the head of the Republic, and things get complicated. This book is not as good as “Legend,” but the second book in trilogies is usually a let-down. This is no let-down. I greatly enjoyed it. But I wish I could have read the two books back-to-back, rather than a year apart. 3/23
  16. *Reached (Ally Condie, 2013). I totally loved “Matched,” the first book in the Matched Trilogy. Ally Condie created a fascinating, very original dystopian society, and made me care about her three central figures. Great character development. The second book, “Crossed,” took us away from the Society, basically letting her characters wander in the wilderness with not much happening. I didn’t like it, but hoped the third installment,  “Reached,” would redeem the trilogy. It didn’t. Not at all. Instead, she blew up the Society, without much explanation. Most of the book was bogged down in finding a cure for a plague. I couldn’t want for this book to end. Truly a deep disappointment. 3/30
  17. *Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own (Ryan and Josh Shook, 2013). Two brothers, preachers’ kids, wrote this book together. It features an all-star cast of tributes from prominent megachurch pastors. But it fell flat for me. The idea is to develop your own unique relationship with Christ, rather than a mere hand-me-down faith you get from your parents. As a preacher’s kid whose career has been spent in Christian ministry, I understand what they’re saying. But basically, they had an article’s worth of good stuff about firsthand faith, and lamely stretched it into a full-length book with hardly anything new. I was bored and disappointed, but kept hoping the next chapter would give me something valuable. It’s probably good for teens or 20-somethings, not so much for this 56-year-old who never felt like I was getting a hand-me-down faith. 3/31
  18. ***Dustlands: Blood Red Road (Moira Young, 2011). The first book in the Dustlands series, a post-apocalyptic series which calls to mind the Road Warrior movies. Saba, a teenage girl, watches mysterious men kidnap her brother and kill her father. She sets off to rescue her brother, accompanied by her pesky little sister, Emmi. Remnants of an old civilization, known as the Wreckers, are all around–buildings, cars, tires, etc. But everything is primitive–no guns, no machines, no electricity. Saba’s adventures in this world, in which she develops into quite a warrior, held my attention. Saba tells her story first-person, with an odd rhythm and words often spelled phonetically; but I got into the flow easily. I really liked the book, but reviews of the second book aren’t good. I’m afraid this is a typical juvenile fiction trilogy, where the first book is very good, and the following books let-downs. 4/9
  19. ****Deathworld (Harry Harrison, 1960). I devoured science fiction as a teen, and Harry Harrison was one of my favorite writers. Deathworld was probably the first book I ever read twice, both while still a teen. Now, 40 years later, I’ve read it three times. The protagonist, a professional gambler named Jason, ends up on a planet where absolutely everything–plant, animal, insect, even blades of grass–is at war with the colonists who came a couple hundred years before. A perpetual war between the colonists, huddled in their protected city, and the planet itself. But there are also people–descendants of colonists themselves–who live outside the city and seemingly at peace with the planet, but at war with their fellow humans in the city. Jason tries to figure out what’s happening. 4/15
  20. ****A Short History of the World (Christopher Richard Lascelles, 2012). It starts with the Big Bang and goes right up to the present–all in just 165 pages. I loved it. Wished I had read it many years ago to get a fundamental overview of the tides of history. Mostly, you watch civilizations and empires rise and fall. 4/29
  21. ****Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card, 1985). Ender Wiggins, as a young boy, is take from his family and begins training with the planetary defense force. He is viewed as a future genius military commander, someone they’ll need in the next showdown with the Buggers, an alien race that has twice attacked Earth. It’s quite a fascinating book as we see how Ender is groomed, without his knowledge. 5/2
  22. ****The Legacies (Pittacus Lore, 2013). Three novellas (60-90 pages) from the “I Am Number Four” series. The main books come out once a year, and I anxiously await. It was nice having these stories to tide me over. One dealt with the early years of Six (who showed up in the first book). The second gave the background of Nine, and was quite interesting. Both books intersected with the main series. The third story came from the viewpoint of a Mogadorian general’s son, who gets inside the mind of One (the first of the Loric children to be killed), and it changes how he views things. Very nice twist on the story. All three were excellent additions to the series. Three more novellas are coming out this summer. I’ll snap them up, most definitely. 5/7
  23. ****Packing for Mars (Mary Roach, 2010). Roach mostly explores–with much humor–all the ramifications of the human body going into space. Weightlessness affects everything from vertigo to digestion to burping. I found the book utterly fascinating, with numerous anecdotes you’ve never heard before involving real astronauts going back to the early days of NASA. I loved the book, and will definitely read more by Mary Roach, because she’s such an entertaining writer. 5/12
  24. **Survival: Prepare Before Disaster Strikes (Barbara Fix, 2011). Practical advice for how to prepare, in advance, for when the power goes out for an extended period of time–if not for good–and society as we know it breaks down. We’re talking post-apocalyptic. Fix covers all of the subjects, most of them ultimately involving shelter and food. 5/14
  25. ***The Rare Coin Score (Richard Stark, 1967). Parker is back, this time with a caper to rob a convention of rare coin dealers. There are women, there are double-crossers. A good read. 5/16
  26. ****The Postcard Killers (James Patterson/Liz Marklund, 2010). Couples are being killed throughout Europe, their bodies arranged in strange ways, and postcards sent to journalists telling about the killings. A New York cop, whose daughter was one of the victims, has been pursuing them. When the killers send a postcard to a woman journalist to announce their arrival in Stockhold, Sweden, the cop hurries there. Cat and mouse stuff. An interesting twist. I really enjoyed this book. 5/18
  27. ****Don’t Blink (James Patterson/Howard Roughan, 2012). A mob lawyer and two cops are killed in a fancy New York restaurant, and a journalist sitting at the next table captures the whole thing on a recording. He gets pulled in, and becomes a target. There’s an ex girlfriend and a current (but taken) flame involved. Interesting plot that moved along, and had one of those endings that just keeps going. 5/19
  28. ****Private: #1 Suspect (Richard Patterson/Maxine Paetro, 2013). The second Private book set in the US (there are London and Berlin series about the worldwide Private security agency). Private’s founder and leader, Jack Morgan, is framed for the murder of a former girlfriend. Sounds like the doings of his evil twin brother, Tommy. Then there are two other Private cases–the highjacking of a mafia van filled with drugs, and a woman who owns a bunch of hotels where a string of murders have been occurring. All three plots are pursued at once. I’ve loved all three Private books I’ve read so far. 5/25
  29. ***All Necessary Force (Brad Taylor, 2012). Pike Logan is back for a second round with the TaskForce, a super-secret government agency. Now he’s joined by Jennifer, who was in the first book, One Rough Man, and is now a member of the TaskForce. A major terrorist plot against the US is taking shape, and the TaskForce gets involved to unravel it. The action begins in Egypt, then moves to Eastern Europe. Plenty of violence. Reads a lot like a Vince Flynn book. Taylor is here to stay. 6/7
  30. **Another Life (Andrew Vachss, 2008). After 18 books, Vachss brings to a close his series of urban noir about the man called Burke. This is a very unique series, with nearly every book dealing in some way with the abuse of women and children. The plot here involves finding a baby abducted from an Arab billionaire (who is also quite a pervert). Vachss tried to reference many things from previous books, but it felt clunky. Henning Mankell masterfully closed out his Inspector Wallander series (12 books) by bringing into the story nearly every major character from the series. But for Vachss, it just didn’t work. Nevertheless, I loved the series and will miss Burke and his most fascinating “family”–Max the Silent, the Mole, the Professor, Michelle, Terry, Clarence, the Gateman, Wesley, and Mama. 6/12
  31. ***Dirty Work (Stuart Woods, 2003). Stone Barrington gets caught up in the hunt for a woman assassin, one of whose targets is the woman (a British spy, basically) who Stone is currently involved with. It gets murky about which one is the good person and which one is the bad. I really enjoyed this plot. 6/21
  32. ****Assassination Vacation (Sarah Vowel, 2006). I loved this book. Vowel focuses on three presidential assassinations–Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. She visit places with some relevance to the assassination and the main characters involved in those killings. About half of the book dealt with the Lincoln assassination, and I learned gobs of new stuff about it. In the process, the author throws in all kinds of tidbits, both personal and historical. This is some of the most fun I’ve ever had learning history. I’ll be certain to read some of Vowel’s other books. 6/23
  33. ****Orchid Beach (Stuart Woods, 2003). This is the first book in Woods’ series about Holly Barker, police chief of the small town of Orchid Beach, Fla. She had just left the military when this gig came along. Her dad, Ham, a career military guy, plays a good role in the book. The plot involves not only the circumstances that brought her to Orchid Beach, but the killing of the police chief who hired her, and the killing of another man. And there’s this mysterious, huge, and security-obsessed community called Palmetto Gardens which draws her attention. I liked Holly Barker a lot, and I’ll be reading the other books in this series. 6/29
  34. ****The Green Eagle Score (Richard Stark, 1967). In the 10th Parker book, our criminal hero gets involved with stealing the payroll on a military base. As always, there are complications with persons involved. No Parker heist ever goes according to plan. 7/2
  35. ****The Black Ice Score (Richard Stark, 1965). In the 11th Parker book (though the copyright is two years earlier than the previous book), Parker is drafted by some Africans from a fictitious country to help them steal nearly a million dollars worth of diamonds from a countryman. A threesome of whites from the same country want to prevent the theft from occurring, and another guy wants a cut of the action but Parker doesn’t want him around. Girlfriend Claire is involved, too. An interesting plot. 7/4
  36. ****In the Lake of the Woods (Tim O’Brien, 1994). When John Wade loses an election, he and his wife retreat to a remote lake cottage, where she soon disappears. This is an inventive book with a unique ending, and very literary. Wade was involved in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and that figures strongly into the plot. O’Brien is a superb writer. 7/6
  37. *****The Light Between Oceans (M.L. Stedman, 2013). The best book I’ve read this year, so far. The book is set in Australia, mostly on Janus Rock, a remote island with a lighthouse–a captivating context. We learn all about lighthouses and how they work. The lighthouse keeper, Tom, is a former soldier in the Great War, a war hero. He meets a woman, Izzy, they marry, and they move to Janus Rock. Then one day a rowboat washes ashore carrying a baby girl. They decide to raise the child as their own…and things get complicated. Beautifully written. 7/9
  38. ****61 Hours (Lee Child, 2012). A different Jack Reacher book, this one set in South Dakota amid a frigid winter storm. The temperature throughout the book is 20+ below zero. So it’s an interesting environment. It’s a small town with a prison, and a mysterious former military base outside of town that has been taken over by a meth-making motorcycle gang. A retired librarian witnessed a drug transaction, and now somebody’s coming to kill the witness. Reacher inflicts a lot less mayhem than in most books.  Some interesting characters. I enjoyed it a lot. 7/11
  39. ****Kill Alex Cross (James Patterson, 2012). The President’s two children have been kidnapped. Then some Saudi terrorists are targeting Administration officials. Two very interesting threads here, and Cross gets mixed up in both of them. 7/13
  40. ****Shock Wave (James Sanford, 2012). A bomber is targeting PyeMart, a big-box chain store (like Wal-Mart) which is coming to the little town of Butternut Falls, Minn. Somebody doesn’t want it there. Bombs have killed two persons. Virgil Flowers gets called in to investigate. I like Virgil Flowers much better than I like Lucas Davenport, the hero of the “Prey” books by Sanford. A lot more humor in the Flowers books. This is a good book which keeps you guessing. 7/18


  1. ****Headhunters (Jo Nesbo, 2008). Set in Oslo, Norway. Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter, but does art theft on the side. He meets Clas Greve, the perfect candidate for a major CEO job, who also owns a priceless Rubens painting. He breaks into Greve’s apartment to steal the painting…but Greve is not a person to mess with. This is a very well-constructed book. There are a bunch of minor plot points, and every one is tied up nicely by the end of the book. I really enjoyed this book. 7/22
  2. ****Black Site (Dalton Fury, 2012). A first novel by a former top Delta soldier. His hero, Kolt Raynor, is a disgraced Delta operative who gets pulled back into the game through a private contractor. He ends up in Afghanistan looking for five fellow soldiers who have been help captive for three years. The plot then goes well beyond that. Raynor is a very well thought out character, who will show up in additional books. I liked the book a lot. And we get loads of interesting details which probably only a former Delta operative would know. 7/24
  3. **The Intercept (Dick Wolf, 2013). A terrorist is thwarted while trying to hijack a jetliner heading for New York. Jeremy Fisk, part of the city’s anti-terror unit, suspects it was only part of a much larger plot…and of course, he’s right. Kept me interested enough to keep reading, but ultimately wasn’t satisfying. 7/26
  4. **The Phantom Patrol (L. Ron Hubbard, 1936). A mindless romp on the high seas, featuring the captain of a Coast Guard ship vs. a pirate. Reprinted from Argosy, a long-lost genre of magazine. 7/27
  5. ****Who Is This Man? (John Ortberg, 2013). I loved this book. Ortberg looks at the influence of Jesus throughout history, pointing out many things I’d never thought of. This book will help you know and understand Jesus better. 7/31
  6. ****A Quiet Flame (Philip Kerr, 2008). The fourth Bernie Gunther novel found our Germany detective fleeing with Adolph Eichmann to Argentina. This fifth installment finds him getting drafted by the national police to find an abducted girl…though it gets a whole lot more complicated than that. As always, Gunther (like Forest Gump) finds himself rubbing shoulders with famous historical people–in this case, Juan and Evita Peron, Joseph Mengele, and assorted Nazis who fled to Argentina after the war. A good chunk of the book involves flashbacks to 1932 Germany, where Gunther pursues a case very similar to one in Argentina. 8/1
  7. ****Hell & Gone (Duane Swierczynski, 2011). This is the second book of the Charlie Hardie trilogy. Like most Swierczynski books, it’s very offbeat. Here, Hardie finds himself in a small, impregnable, and very sadistic prison buried deep in the earth. It’s all connected to The Accident People, a group of people who secretly pull the strings in society and the world in general. An interesting assortment of persons are with him in this prison–five prisoners, and four guards. 8/3
  8. *Noir (Robert Coover, 2010). An artsy, but ultimately confusing and difficult, take on the pulp detective novel. Philip Noir is a private detective, and takes on case for a mysterious widow. It winds around, and lots of characters enter the story. Coover tells the story with plenty of conversation, but no quotation marks; the quotes are mixed in with other material, and you can usually tell the difference, but it sure doesn’t help with communication or clarity. It’s a short book, 200 pages, so despite some struggles, I kept at it. But it turned out to be very unsatisfying. 8/4
  9. ****The Deep Blue Good-By (John D. MacDonald, 1964). This is the first Travis McGee book; Random House just began republishing the whole series. I’d read one other book by MacDonald, and was not overly impressed, but decided to try the first McGee book. Wow! This guy can write! He signs on to help a young woman recover some gems which her Dad illegally brought back after the Pacific War, and which another guy stole. I was quite engrossed, and know that I’ll be devouring more MacDonald books. 8/6
  10. ****A Wanted Man (Lee Child, 2012). Jack Reacher hitches a ride with two men, who have just killed a man, and the woman they abducted. The police, FBI, and CIA get involved in the hunt. And who exactly was that guy they killed? This is a seat-of-your-pants thriller, the kind you just can’t put down. 8/9
  11. ****Orchid Blues (Stuart Woods, 2002). Police chief Holly Barker is set to be married. But an hour beforehand, her fiance is killed in a bank robbery. The investigation leads to a shadowy militant group occupying a large piece of land nearby. Holly’s father, Ham, goes undercover to infiltrate the group. Holly Barker is almost incidental to the plot, since it revolves around Ham. It’s a great plot with a very satisfying ending. 8/10
  12. ****Blood Orchid (Stuart Woods, 2003). The Palmetto Gardens land, from the first book in the series (this is the 3rd), is sold to a guy named Ed Shine after two other potential bidders were assassinated. Then Holly Barker finds her home bugged. What’s that about? An FBI agent comes to town to work undercover, and though he won’t tell her what he’s working on, he and Holly become quite intimate. There are Cuban assassins involved and ex mafioso. Very interesting stuff. 8/11
  13. **Reckless Abandon (Stuart Woods, 2004). Holly Baker comes to New York City in pursuit of a fugitive–now shielded by the FBI–from the “Blood Orchid” book. She hooks up with Stone Barrington, and they spend a lot of time in the sack. This is a very slutty Holly Baker, unlike the other three books I read about her. The book wanders all over the landscape, and I had a hard time trying to figure out where it was going. Not one of his best. 8/14
  14. ***Quarry’s List (Max Allan Collins, 1976). Our hero hitman, Quarry, wakes up in the night to find a killer in his house. Two of them, actually. He dispatches them, and then sets out to learn who was trying to have him killed, and why. A former “business associate,” a high-flying lawyer, a beautiful woman (of course!), and sundry shady characters with guns are involved. 8/17
  15. ****Quarry’s Deal (Max Allan Collins, 1976). Quarry follows a hitwoman from Florida to Iowa, and figures out who she intends to kill–and then makes a deal with that guy, promising to save his life in return for money. Most of the time, Quarry is shacking up with the hitwoman. Some other folks get involved, obviously. This was a very interesting plot. 8/29
  16. ****Point & Shoot (Duane Swierczynski, 2013). This is the final installment of a trilogy which began with Fun & Games and continued with Hell & Gone. Now, after some madcap adventures, our unkillable hero, Charlie Hardie, finds himself in a very small spacecraft, 9 months into a one-year agreement to protect something (he doesn’t know what) on that craft. Then another craft docks, and things start going crazy. The Cabal, or “The Accident People,” have been watching Charlie’s wife and son back in Philadelphia, and now a race begins to rescue them from certain execution. This is a wonderful trilogy. Swierczynski has become one of my favorite authors, creating some nightmarish and claustrophobic situations (the coma car, a secret prison, the spaceship) and forcing his protagonist to somehow find a way through. 8/24
  17. ***Obedience (Will Lavender, 2009). This plot really kept my attention. On the first day of a college class, the somewhat mysterious prof tells the students that a girl, Polly, has been kidnapped. If they don’t find her by the end of the class term (six weeks), the girl will be killed. The book focuses on three students who delve into the case. How much is purely an academic exercise, and how much is real life? It’s murky, especially when it begins bleeding into their personal lives. I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, but until then, I was hooked. 8/29
  18. ****Web of Murder (Harry Whittington, 1958). Whittington was a very prolific writer of detective fiction, and he wrote quality stuff. I’ve read several of his books. This one is the frequently-used plot of a man and his lover scheming to kill the man’s wife, so they can collect her fortune and live happily ever after. This one takes some interesting turns. 8/31
  19. *****The Pursuit of Holiness (Jerry Bridges, 1978). My third time reading this book. Not many contemporary books, regardless of how many copies they sell initially, will end up being timeless classics. But this will be one. It’s a nitty gritty biblical examination of how a person can live in obedience to God. 8/31
  20. ****Lost Files: Secret Histories (Pittacus Lore, 2013). Each year a new book in the Lorien Legacies is published. It started with “I Am Number Four,” and in August 2013 “The Fall of Five” arrived. But this year, they began publishing novellas–around 80 pages–which fill in some gaps and give additional back story. Three novellas came out in the spring of 2013. Then, this summer, another three arrived. Put together, they comprise the book “Secret Histories.” Two of them follow a young Mogadorian who betrays his own people and begins working for the Loric (the good guys). The other focused on Sandor, one of the persons from the other books who was already dead, and the last days of Lorien before the Mogadorian invasion. All of the novellas have been good, providing information of interest to me. 9/4
  21. ***The Fall of Five (Pittacus Lore, 2013). I have mixed feelings about this fourth book in the Lorien Legacies series. Not much happened. Mostly, the Garde were couped up in Nine’s Chicago hideout. But on the other hand, we learned much more about the individual persons. The new persons thrown into the mix is Five, who doesn’t appear until this book. Things get a bit dark here. 9/6
  22. ****Divergent (Veronica Roth, 2011). The first book in a heralded trilogy in the juvenile fiction/dystopian genre. In this world, all 16-year-olds must select one of five factions in which to spend the rest of their lives. Each one has an emphasis: honesty, selflessness, bravery, intelligence, peacefulness. Our heroine, Beatrice, is from the “selfless” faction, called Abnegation, but now chooses the “bravery” faction, Dauntless. Most of the book involves the three-part initiation process into Dauntless. But a larger insidious plot is afoot. Also: Beatrice is “divergent,” which means that in testing, she didn’t come out with a strong affinity for any particular faction. The divergent are considered dangerous and must be eliminated. I really liked this book, and have started the second book, “Insurgent.” I’ve been disappointed by several other dystopian trilogies, which start with a great first book and then go down the toilet. Hoping that’s not the case here. 9/8
  23. ***Insurgent (Veronia Roth, 2012). The second book in the “Divergent” trilogy. Not as good as the first one. Too much angst by the main characters; it got a bit old. But still, not a let-down as so many second books are. The “good” Dauntless, with Tobias and Tris, face off against the evil Jeanine of the Erudite. A lot of drama, not as much action as “Divergent,” yet the total story moves along. I’m anxious to read the final books, “Allegiant,” which comes out in October. 9/13
  24. **Infinity: The Chronicles of Nick (Sherrilyn Kenyon, 2010). Nick is a picked-on high schooler who, he discovers (so everyone is telling him in this book) has some special super powers of some kind. Zombies and various classes of demons and other other-worldly creatures populate this first novel in the series. I gave it a try, because I enjoy a lot of juvenile fiction, but this one was a bit too juvenile. If I were in early high school, I’m sure I would have really enjoyed it. As it was, for a 56-year-old, I think I’ll skip the rest of the series. 9/20
  25. **The Orchid Shroud (Michelle Wan, 2006). At a French estate, a dead baby–dead for decades–is found hidden in a wall. The whodunit looks at previous residents of the estate–a bunch of schemers at each other’s throat–to figure out what happened and who did what. It’s a very literate, elegantly written book, but moved much too slowly for my tastes. 9/28
  26. ****Ex-Heroes (Peter Clines, 2010). It’s Los Angeles after a zombie apocalypse. A small group of superheroes–persons with unnatural powers–have built a fortress for thousands of people in the format MGM studios compound. In addition to battling the millions of zombies, they must contend with a group of humans who want to undo what they’ve built. It becomes superheroes vs. (bad) superheroes. I loved this book. A very pleasant surprise. 10/1
  27. ****Ex-Patriots (Peter Clines, 2011). A bunch of enhanced soldiers show up at the Mount. Some of the superheroes go with them to their base in Yuma, Ariz. There’s something not quite right with them, of course, something villainous. Lots of intrigue, plenty of action. A good sequel to Ex-Heroes. I’m really liking this series. 10/6
  28. *****Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Reza Aslan, 2013). Aslan, a religious historian who also happens to be Muslim, takes a very close–and totally fascinating–look at what history tells us about Jesus, and about the many people around him–the Herods, Pilate, Paul, James, and more. Aslan does not believe Jesus is God. BUT, he is not out to evangelize any viewpoints. In fact, Aslan has a great respect for Christians, for Christianity, and for Jesus. He begins by telling his story of being a former evangelical who later converted to Islam. He is just saying, “Here’s what history says. Beyond that, you’re going by faith.” But history tells an awful lot. I gained tremendous insights into Jesus, and will never again read the New Testament quite the same. I totally loved this book. 10/8
  29. ****The Devotion of Suspect X (Keigo Higashino, 2012). A woman’s ex-husband comes for an unwelcome visit, things go bad, and the woman and her daughter end up killing him. A somewhat mysterious neighbor, a math teacher, arranges an intricate cover-up. All they have to do is stick to the story he concocts. The point of view shifts between characters, including a policeman and a physics professor. It’s a well-woven story. 10/30
  30. ***The Carny Kill (Robert Edmon Alter, 1993). A fine piece of pulp noir, set in a Florida amusement park. The park owner is found murdered. Who did it? The story unfolds through the eyes of Thaxton, a carny whose ex-wife is now married to the victim. It’s a fun read within a very unusual world. 11/9
  31. *****The Power of the Dog (Don Winslow, 2006). A very, very long book from one of my favorite authors. It’s epic, spanning 25 years (from 1979) of the drug war in Mexico, Central America, and Columbia. Art Keller, a DEA agent, is the central figure. But we also move into the lives of a Mexican drug lord and his son, a Mafia hitman, a high-priced call girl, an incorruptible Mexican priest, an honest but brutal Mexican cop, and sundry other characters–all of them fleshed out so they become very real to you. The book mixes the real history of the drug trade with fiction. It’s maddening when you see how CIA interests propped up and defended drug lords over the years. I loved this book. 11/14
  32. **Sentinel (Matthew Dunne, 2012). The second Spycatcher thriller finds Will Cochrane in Russia trying to thwart a plot by a Spetnaz agent to start World War 3. Cochrane teams up with a legendary MI6 spy, code-named Sentinel. Didn’t keep my attention like the first book. 11/19
  33. ****’Scuse Me While I Kill This Guy (Leslie Langtry, 2013). Ginny Bombay is a member of the Bombay family, professional assassins for a few thousand years. She’s also a single mom with a five-year-old daughter, whose time has come to be trained in the family career. A special meeting of all family members from around the world has been called–what’s that about? It’s quite interesting, and the whole Bombay story, with its deadly rules, is spelled out in the first chapter. Ginny Bombaby narrates the story, with constant wisecracks. It’s very, very funny. I’m hooked. 11/21
  34. ****Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins, 2010). The second Hunger Games book. After Katniss and Peeta win the Hunger Games, they go on a victory tour to the various impoverished districts, whose champions they killed. Then it’s back to their own District 12. But the Capitol is upset with Katniss, especially as revolts occur in other districts and Katniss was the spark for it. A special version of the Hunger Games is announced, and Katniss and Peeta find themselves once against back in the area. 11/26
  35. ****Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins, 2011). The conclusion of the Hunger Games trilogy. Didn’t end the way I expected, but it’s a good ending. 11/28
  36. ***Allegiant (Veronica Roth, 2013). The final installment of the Divergent series. Tris and Tobias, who alternate chapters, find themselves outside of the Divergent community where they’ve always lived, and which defined their entire world. We learn how their dystopian world came to be. There is a bit much handwringing, and not all that much happens, but it’s a decent ending to the series. 12/1
  37. ****Champion (Marie Lu, 2013). The final installment of the Legend series. The Colonies (easter US) are threatening war on the Republic (western US). June is now the right-hand person to the Elector, who leads the Republic. Day remains a populist hero. The story is told in alternating chapters by June and Day. The book lagged in parts, but had a great ending. 12/14
  38. ***Build the Perfect Bug-Out Bag (Creek Stewart, 2012). A disaster-preparedness book. If some kind of disaster strikes and society falls apart,  and you must flee your home, here’s the bag that contains everything you’ll need for at least the first 72 hours. Chapters on water and food, clothing shelter, fire, first aid, hygiene, tools, lighting, communications, self-defense, and other areas. 12/14
  39. ****Private London (James Patterson, 2013). Dan Carter, head of Private’s London office, is tasked with protecting an American college student. Now, several years later, she’s been kidnapped. It’s all hands on deck to find her. Meanwhile, Carter’s ex-wife, a London cop, is trying to find a serial murder whose motives seem to be wrapped up with the illicit organ trade. 12/20
  40. ***Cat Chaser (Elmore Leonard, 1982). George Moran owns a small hotel on the Florida coast. 16 years before, he was a US Marine during the invasion of the Dominican Republic, during which he was captured while pursuing a Dominican rebel girl. He goes to the Dominican Republic hoping to locate her, and instead meets a woman he’s been in love with from afar–the wife of a ruthless former general in the DR. Things get complicated, and stuff happens. A fun read. 12/21
  41. ***The Consummata (Mickey Spilane, 2011). Morgan, a thief pursued by the government, finds refuge in Miami’s Cuban community…and then gets dragged into searching for someone who ripped off a community of Cuban immigrants. It’s an interesting plot. Part of the Hardcase Crime imprint. 12/23
  42. ***The Dead Rise Not (Philip Kerr, 2011). This is kind of a different book. The first two-thirds occur in 1934, as the Nazis are cementing their grip in Germany. Bernie Gunther is working security for Berlin’s biggest hotel. The plot includes an American gangster and an American Jewess doing an article on Germany’s treatment of Jews, plus the spectre of the 1936 Olympics. The last third finds us in Cuba in 1954. Gunther had earlier fled Germany for Argentina, and (in the last book) had to leave Argentina. He’s kicking back in Havana, doing not much, when ghosts from 1934 appear and he gets dragged into things. 12/26
  43. **Clear Winter Nights (Trevin Wax, 2013). A young Christian experiences a crisis of faith, wondering if Christianity is for real. He’s about to become involved in a church plant and marry a wonderful Christian woman. But he must deal with his doubts, which are substantial. He goes to spend a weekend with his grandfather, a retired pastor. Most of the book involves their conversations. Wax doesn’t try to wrap everything up nicely, and I appreciated that. It was interesting, but I didn’t come away with any enlightenment, with any new thoughts about the Christian life. 12/26
  44. ***When the Grid Goes Down (Tony Nester, 2012). A short book with tips on how to prepare for a disaster of some kind. How to survive where you are, rather than escape to the wilderness. 12/28
  45. ***Blood Oath (Christopher Farnsworth, 2010). Nathaniel Cade is the “president’s vampire.” Zach has just been named liaison between the President and Cade, and he’s in for a wild ride. Cade has served US presidents since the late 1800s, dealing with all manner of evil–werewolves, aliens, etc. Now jihadists are plotting to unleash killer frankensteins, assembled from the parts of US servicemen killed in Afghanistan, on the US. Zach and Cade must stop it. There are now three books in this series; this is the first. 12/31
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